So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our ninth, I think!)
For the uninitiated, this is where Rob Bedford and I try to pull together what we see as key genre film and TV from the previous twelve months.
There’s less difference between here and genre books, with TV being often less than a week between US and UK showings. Films are often within a couple of weeks of each other though there are exceptions (I’m looking at you, Muppets Movie!)
At the end, Rob and I will try and mention our year’s favourites.
Right: with that over, let’s get started.
Generally another strong year for the genre, even if it seemed to be mainly sequels, prequels and re-imaginings.
For many the year closed with the release of the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. A franchise that has defined many a fan’s interest in the genre, it was a fitting, if rather bittersweet, conclusion.
Similarly the end of the Twilight franchise drew closer with the penultimate film, Twilight: Breaking Dawn (Part 1). This one made the fans of the books fairly happy but clearly divided everyone else.
Troll Hunter was an unexpected gem. The Awakening was a creepy MR James-style ghost story aptly released around Halloween, which deserved marks for atmosphere and plot. Low budget Attack the Block was liked by many, though was a little too ‘chav’ for Mark’s tastes. Much more to his liking, Simon Pegg’s Paul seemed to make many genre fans happy, chock-full of SF references as it was. Contagion was a reasonable stab at a horror-virus film. Matt Damon’s The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Philip K. Dick story, was quite well received. Limitless was a more thoughtful film than expected. Real Steelwas not quite as bad as the trailer would have you believe. The combination of Spielberg and JJ Abrams in Super 8 was regarded as brilliant by many, yet clichéd and over-sentimental by others. Rob thought Super 8 his favourite summer film, despite it’s clichéd E.T. meets Goonies meets Close Encountersplot.
Talking of Spielberg, The Adventures of Tin Tin was seen as a brilliant exercise in 3D animation, yet left many of the audience wondering why bother with such an expensive remake of the TV series. Similarly, Fright Night, the 80’s movie, was remade, though many wondered why, although David Tennant in a decidedly different post-Doctor Who role was worthy of mention.
Mars Needs Moms, Immortals all crashed and burned, deservedly so. Green Lantern and Green Hornet were two that never got off the ground with fans, so it is a bit weird that a Green Lantern sequel is already being planned.
At the end of the year, Scorcese’s Hugo was an impressively reviewed success.
Personal favourites from Mark were X Men: First Class, a movie much better than expected. Best of the comic book films for him was Captain America, though Thor was good. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was much better than expected and to a lot of people’s surprise came high in many ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year, with Andy Sirkis again mentioned as a worthy ape in the role of Caesar.
Rob liked Thor quite a bit, thought Captain America was pretty decent too. A lot of pre-release buzz would lead many to believe Green Lantern was terrible. Rob thought it was good and much better than that pre-release anti-buzz led him to believe, the FX were good and for the most part, the film captured the mythology of the character well.
Also of merit: Source Code, another winner from Duncan Jones after Moon; Conan was worth a try, and better than some of the reviews gave it credit for: it looked great, though some acting and dialogue were not worth the brilliant settings. Much more Lovecraftian than the Schwarzenegger versions, as befitting tales originally in Weird Tales.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon was better than the second film in the series, if that can be judged as a guide to quality. Though overlong, it was great to look at but let down at times by abysmal dialogue and sad in-jokes. What was John Malkovitch thinking?
Rob’s favourite film, tangentially fantastic in nature because, hey the puppets are real, was The Muppets. It hit all the nostalgic notes perfectly and was a lot of fun. It may have even drawn a tear from Rob’s eye. Mark is still annoyed that this is not out in the UK until February 2012.
& TV Series
2011 was the year of A Game of Thrones, without a doubt: winning over many who do not read or watch Fantasy, and managing to keep the fans of the books (mainly) happy – not an easy feat! The final cry at the end of the last episode still sends shivers down Mark’s spine… Rob actually thought a couple of plot points in the show were more powerful on screen then on page: Ned’s last scene and when he took care of Sansa’s direwolf.
In the UK, The Fades, and Black Mirror were all worth mentions, though not outstanding. Misfits, Being Human and Merlin continued to wow fans, yet left Mark distinctly unimpressed. Outcasts, a BBC attempt at making a sensible SF colony series, was just deadly dull and with cardboard cutout characters and awful dialogue was quickly shifted from ‘prime time’ viewing to ‘sometime late at night’, deservedly so. Torchwood: Miracle Day also suffered from being transplanted to the US. Though initially it was tighter and less meandering than the Wales-based version, in the end the preposterousness of the plot led it to sink under the weight of its own improbability.
In the US, Smallville after ten years came to an end, not with a bang but a whimper. Having barely hung on through the ten seasons, it was disappointing and the sign of a series past its time. The transition from boy with growing superpowers to the world’s first and greatest superhero was mishandled through just about every step of the way.
Stargate: Universe made it to the end of a second series, but only just, and was then cancelled. Caprica, The Event and V also bit the bullet this year.Caprica had potential but The Event was too ambitious and meandering. V fizzled out in its second season after a patchy first season.
True Blood got into its fifth season, with fans continuing to enjoy its high blood and sex quotient. Vampire Diaries continued its third series in a similar, yet less R-rated, vein.
Supernatural continued in its eighth season, though some felt that, like Smallville, it was also struggling at times. Similar comments were made about Spielberg’s Terra Nova, which was clearly expensive but almost threatened a Lost-style implosion of complexity and humdrum-ness. Rob kept watching, mainly because of the background mythology, but doesn’t think it can sustain for too long.
On both sides of the Atlantic, Doctor Who continued to impress many, but not Mark, sadly. Much more impressive, though not without its faults, was The Walking Dead, which managed to make zombies almost interesting. Rob thinks at times, The Walking Dead was the strongest genre TV show in 2011, at times better than Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, it was bit uneven, but on the whole, it captures Kirkman’s original comic/graphic novel series quite well.
SyFy’s Eureka continues on, though only one partial season remains. For the most recent season, geek favourite Felicia Day became part of the cast, and Wil Wheaton continued his Magnificent Bastard sort-of villain role. The show took a challenge a couple of seasons back when they reset the timeline of the show and decided to stick with it. (Of course, the show has finished shooting the last few episodes because SyFy would rather show umpteen semi-reality ghost hunter and make up shows rather than actual fiction.)
Also from SyFy (but not shown on SyFy in the UK) Mark also enjoyed the first season of Alphas, which followed a similar course to Heroes but tended to make more sense and have less of a sense of its own importance. Not a perfect series, by any means, but it held his interest, mainly due to the acting of David Strathairn.
The Big Bang Theory continued to amuse Mark greatly in its fourth season, though some of the attempts to broaden the range of the main characters was a little hit and miss. Rob’s been a fan of the show, too, though some romantic developments for Leonard don’t mesh well with the overall feel and direction of the show. They manage to get a fair amount of the science right and many of the geek culture references are spot on, particularly impressive is how up-to-date the gang’s comic shop tends to be.
The series that continued to impress Mark most was Fringe, which in Season Three really reached beyond its original remit to create some jaw-dropping moments. Though the accelerated pregnancy of Olivia was a step too far, Mark was surprised and pleased by acting of the leads as they alternated between our reality and alternate reality. He looks forward to catching up with Season Four as soon as possible.
At the end of 2011, or rather, the start of the Fall TV season in the States, two genre shows kicked off to a positive buzz. Both shows hit on the deconstruction of fairy tales and legends. One is the police procedural meets Grimm Fairy tales, titled Grimm, which feels close to what the Dresden FilesTV show should have been. Basically, one of the police officers is part of a long line of Grimms, monster hunters dating back hundreds of years. It follows a standard one-hour mystery structure, but is fun and entertaining especially in trying to determine on what myth the ‘monster of the week’ is based.
The other show is Once Upon a Time and (basically) takes the Disney fairy tales and puts them into the real world, a small secluded town called Storybrooke. The corporate convenience of the show airing on ABC, which is owned by Disney, makes a fair amount of the character use easy. It also takes a flashback method of storytelling, switching between Storybrooke and the fairy-tale medieval land where the stories take place. That style should be familiar to fans of Lost, and that’s no coincidence since a couple of the folks responsible for Lost are involved in Once Upon a Time. The premise is extremely similar to the DC/Vertigo comic series Fables…which is interesting since ABC once was planning a Fables TV series. All that said, the show is fun and manages to forge its own identity using similar elements.
Looking forward to 2012: Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods (Joss Whedon’s take on a horror flick starring Thor’s Chris Hemsworth), a reboot of Spider-Man with The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus and The Hobbit suggest a great year already.
OK: to favourites.
Mark: In no particular order, my five films for 2011 would be
- X Men: First Class
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes;
- Source Code;
- Captain America;
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
In terms of TV: Fringe (though I am only on Season Three) and Game of Thrones. Big Bang Theory would be a third.
- The Muppets
- Super 8
- Green Lantern
- Captain America
TV: Game of Thrones barely edges out The Walking Dead, followed by Grimm and Eureka.